Wilf Family Cardiovascular Research Institute

Researchers

Gaining a better understanding of cardiovascular disease and stroke requires a team effort. Cardiologists, cell and molecular biologists, geneticists and other specialists are all needed.

The scientists profiled below demonstrate the multidisciplinary nature of Einstein cardiology today.


Richard N. KitsisRichard N. Kitsis, M.D.
Director, Wilf Family Cardiovascular Research Institute
Dr. Gerald and Myra Dorros Professor of Cardiovascular Disease
 

Dr. Kitsis has been fascinated by cell death for nearly two decades, and with good reason. "Cell death is crucial to the field of cardiology," said Dr. Kitsis. “It helps to explain why heart attacks kill some people and can cause heart failure in those who survive."

Dr. Kitsis and his team are exploring how cell death mecha­nisms like necrosis interact with apoptosis to dam­age the heart. Additionally, they have focused on a protein called apoptosis repressor with caspase recruitment do­main (ARC). This protein, said Dr. Kitsis, "seems to be at a nexus where cardiac muscle cells make a lot of decisions about whether to live or to die."

By gaining a better understanding of the cell death mechanisms linked to ARC, Dr. Kitsis hopes to develop thera­pies for heart attack and heart failure — the final stop in the long journey from bench to bedside. "Our goal," he said, "is to improve cardiovascular health in our families, our neighbors and the world."


 

Nikolaos G. Frangogiannis, M.D.
Professor, Department of Medicine (Cardiology)
Edmond J. Safra/Republic National Bank of New York Chair in Cardiovascular Medicine
 

A cardiologist and translational scientist, Dr. Nikolaos Frangogiannis is one of the world’s authorities on how the heart heals following a heart attack. This is a very important area of research, as healing determines whether heart failure, a second lethal condition, is likely to ensue.


 

Mario Garcia, M.D.
Professor, Department of Medicine (Cardiology)
Professor, Department of Radiology
Co-Director, Montefiore Einstein Center for Heart and Vascular Care
Pauline Levitt Chair in Medicine
Chief, Division of Cardiology, Department of Medicine
 

Dr. Mario Garcia is an international authority on cardiac imaging (echocardiography, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and CAT scanning). These techniques are used to “see” the heart from outside of the body. Dr. Garcia’s research has been instrumental in determining how these approaches can be used to diagnose patients with various heart diseases, and to monitor the course of disease. In addition to his research activities, Dr. Garcia is a renowned physician and a worldwide leader in medical education. He serves on the certification boards that determine whether a physician is qualified to become a specialist. In his role as cardiologist-in-chief at Einstein, he provides a role model for the 35 cardiologists-in-training, and medical students and residents who wish to become cardiologists.


 

Evripidis Gavathiotis, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Department of Biochemistry
Assistant Professor, Department of Medicine (Cardiology)
 

Dr. Evripidis Gavathiotis is a chemical and structural biologist and expert in the field of drug design. In partnership with Dr. Richard Kitsis, Dr. Gavathiotis working to develop new drugs to reduce heart damage from heart attacks, as well as a new class of drugs for cancer. His publications appear in the most rigorous and highly regarded scientific journals, and he has been invited to deliver major lectures at international scientific meetings.


 

Daphne T. Hsu, M.D.
Professor, Department of Pediatrics (Cardiology)
Division Chief of Pediatric Cardiology
Co-Director of the Pediatric Heart Center
 

An internationally recognized clinician and teacher, Dr. Daphne Hsu, Professor and Chief of Pediatric Cardiology, studies heart muscle diseases in children. She recently published a paper identifying clinical factors that predict survival for children undergoing heart transplantation for heart failure.


 

Robert C. Kaplan, Ph.D.
Professor, Department of Epidemiology & Population Health
Dorothy and William Manealoff Foundation and Molly Rosen Chair in Social Medicine
 

Dr. Robert Kaplan is a world-renowned cardiovascular epidemiologist. He studies whole populations to understand how factors, such as genetics and life style, contribute to cardiovascular disease. His work is essential for identifying how cardiovascular disease is evolving at the national and worldwide levels, and how current therapies are affecting these trends. Dr. Kaplan is the founder and director of the Einstein Center for Population Cohorts, which has had a transformative effect on how “population science” is conducted at our medical school. As part of this work, he directs The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute-funded Hispanic Community Health Study, and he recently published a groundbreaking paper describing the prevalence of cardiovascular disease in this population.


 

Jorge Kizer, M.D.
Director of Clinical Cardiovascular Research, Department of Medicine 

Dr. Jorge Kizer is a cardiologist and clinical researcher studying interrelationships between obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. A recent discovery involves how adiponectin, a hormone secreted from fat cells, influences heart disease. Dr. Kizer is also an exceptional clinical cardiologist and medical educator.


 

Thomas V. McDonaldThomas V. McDonald, M.D.
Professor, Departments of Medicine (Cardiology) and Molecular Pharmacology  

Why does the heart sometimes stop pumping? Dr. McDonald and his colleagues are examining the role of protein mutations in several forms of sudden death. A notable example is long QT syndrome, a hereditary disorder of the heart’s electrical rhythm that can occur in otherwise healthy people and is potentially fatal.

"Once we understand how inherited mutations put one at risk for sudden death, we’ll be in a better position to keep people alive through drugs or by changing their behaviors," said Dr. McDonald. The team might, for example, advise at-risk people to avoid strenuous exercise, roller coasters or alarm clocks, since they could trigger a fatal arrhythmia.

So far, researchers have identified at least 12 genes that may harbor mutations that lead to long QT syndrome. "Most genes that carry these mutations are involved in making ion channels," explained Dr. McDonald. "When ions are out of balance, you have a heart rhythm disturbance."

Dr. McDonald serves as codirector of the Montefiore-Einstein Cardiogenetics Program, which provides one-stop help for families affected by sudden unexpected death syn­drome, sudden infant death syndrome and other cardiac rhythm disturbances.


 

Robert Michler, M.D.
Professor, Department of Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery
Professor, Department of Surgery
Chair, Department of Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery
Chair, Department of Surgery
Samuel Belkin Professorial Chair (YU)
Co-Director, Montefiore Einstein Center for Heart and Vascular Care
 

Dr. Robert Michler is an internationally recognized heart surgeon and researcher. Dr. Michler performs groundbreaking NIH-funded research into the role of cardiac mitral valve repair in patients with heart failure. He is exploring the use of cardiac stem cells in heart failure. Dr. Michler has been rated among America’s top physicians for over a dozen years straight. He imparts his highly specialized skills in valve repair and heart transplantation to the surgeons who apprentice under him, and serves as the primary role model for Einstein medical students who aspire to a career in surgery. Dr. Michler is the founder of a non-profit organization, Heart Care International, that brings life-saving cardiac surgery to indigent populations outside of the United States.


 

Bernice E. MorrowBernice E. Morrow, Ph.D.
Sidney L. and Miriam K. Olson Professor in Cardiology;
Director, Division of Translational Genetics, Department of Genetics
 

The causes of congenital heart defects—present in about 1 percent of live births—are largely unknown, but most are likely due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors. To gain insights into genetic causes, Dr. Bernice Morrow and her colleagues study a human birth defect syndrome known as velo-cardio-facial syndrome (VCFS)/DiGeorge syndrome (DGS).

VCFS/DGS results from a deletion of 40 genes on one of two copies of chromosome 22 (22q11.2). The most common heart defect in patients is tetralogy of Fallot—a hole between the heart’s ventricles, obstruction of blood flow to the lungs, an out-of-place aorta and a thickened right ventricular wall.

Dr. Morrow has studied a mouse model of VCFS/DGS and found that one gene in particular, called TBX1, is most vital for normal heart development. The next step is to identify the defect-producing molecular changes that occur when TBX1 is missing, which could lead to gene therapy. Until then, "when ultrasound in pregnancy reveals a suspected heart defect of this type, we can test the 22q11.2 region for a deletion in amniotic fluid or fetal blood," said Dr. Morrow. "Having a team of doctors on hand at the birth can then give the newborn the best outcome possible."


 

Jeffrey E. Pessin, Ph.D.
Professor, Department of Medicine (Endocrinology)
Professor, Department of Molecular Pharmacology
Judy R. and Alfred A. Rosenberg Professorial Chair in Diabetes Research
Director, Diabetes Research Center, Department of Medicine
 

Dr. Jeffrey Pessin is an internationally recognized authority on obesity and diabetes, topics of direct relevance to heart disease. His work has uncovered new explanations for why the hormone insulin is unable to do its job well in diabetics. This so called “insulin resistance” is intrinsically related to abnormalities in heart function that are commonly observed in diabetics. Dr. Pessin’s work may shed light on novel targets for the development of new drugs to treat diabetic heart disease.


 

Nicholas E. SibingaNicholas E. S. Sibinga, M.D.
Associate Professor, Departments of Medicine (Cardiology) and of Developmental & Molecular Biology  

Smoking, high blood pressure and a high-fat diet are well-known risk factors for athero­sclerotic heart disease—the most com­mon form of the disease, in which arteries eventually become blocked. “But we now recognize that atherosclerosis is not simply a passive process in which fat accumulates and clogs up the artery,” said Dr. Sibinga. “Instead, artery damage results from a very active inflammatory process.” Inflammation can even cause arteries to thicken and stiffen without fat buildup—a condition called arteriosclerosis—which can set the stage for a heart attack or stroke as effectively as fat buildup can.

Dr. Sibinga and his laboratory colleagues focus on restenosis, the re-narrowing of arteries—which often occurs after arteries have been widened by balloon angioplasty. “We’ve identified new proteins activated after vascular injury, and our findings suggest that these proteins or protein fragments may be useful as therapies for controlling inflam­mation and other activities that occur within the walls of blood vessels,” said Dr. Sibinga. He will soon be testing these proteins in animals, with the goal of developing new ways to prevent restenosis, heart attacks, and strokes.


 

Bin Zhou, M.D., Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Department of Genetics
Associate Professor, Department of Pediatrics
Associate Professor, Department of Medicine (Cardiology)
 

Recognized worldwide as an outstanding scientist, Dr. Bin Zhou is a cardiovascular geneticist whose work is focused in two areas. First, he is interested in how the heart forms in the embryo, and made a major breakthrough when he identified the cells in the embryo that give rise to the coronary arteries. The clinical implications of this discovery beg the question as to whether cardiac stem cells could be used to repair or regenerate diseased coronary arteries. A second focus of Dr. Zhou’s research is calcific aortic stenosis, which is a narrowing of the aortic valve that occurs commonly with aging and, not infrequently, requires valve repair or replacement. Dr. Zhou is in the process of delineating the molecular pathways that mediate this disease, so as to be able to use this information to prevent or reverse it.

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